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Attachment Challenged Children Are Biologically Unable to Attach

Children are born with a biological need to connect to people. The first two years are critical! Pay
attention to your emotions as you read about Sammy and Tyler when they were four months old.

Sammy woke up from his nap crying. The parent picked him up saying, “Good morning, little one,” comforted
him, held him close, looked into his eyes while feeding him, and changed his diaper. Afterwards, they
played. Making eye contact with Sammy, the parent smiled, cooed, stroked Sammy’s cheek, talked softly. Sammy
watched and gradually started copying his parent.

In contrast, Tyler woke up from his nap crying. He was ignored for a long time. Eventually, the parent
screamed, “Stop your crying!” grabbed Tyler, plopped him on a pillow, shoved a bottle in his mouth, and
stormed off. In the background was chaos, swearing, yelling; and the place reeked of alcohol and drugs. The
parent came back and sternly shrieked, “Ah, you stink! I’ve got to change a dirty diaper again!” While the
parent roughly changed him, Tyler saw a scary grimace on his parent’s face.

Most of us would feel calm, relaxed, and “ahhhh” as we think of Sammy. With consistent positive experiences,
Sammy’s brain cells connect to provide permanent hardwiring that at an unconscious level says, “I am safe. I
can trust my parents. I am important.” This forms Sammy’s basic, biological expectation for his whole life.

However, with Tyler’s story most of us would feel agitated and “yucky”. With consistent negative
experiences, Tyler’s brain cells connect to provide permanent hardwiring that at an unconscious level says,
“No one will take care of me. I’m bad. This world isn’t safe.” Tyler becomes stressed and at an innate
biological level is in survival mode to take care of himself.

Fast forward four years. Sammy wants to please his parents, obeys most of the time, has fun playing with his
parents, explores his world, and plays with children. In contrast, Tyler has to control everything! He
emotionally connects with no one, has no desire to please anyone, has no empathy, plays by himself, and
mistreats others. His brain is hardwired to be this way. It is not his choice. Tyler feels that to give up
control would be to die.

Attachment Therapy

Many parents adopt needy children thinking that with their unconditional love, the child will learn to trust
and change their behavior. They soon realize that traditional parenting techniques do not work with
attachment challenged kids. In fact, the more love given, the more the child may resist. It’s disheartening
to realize that the brain connections established in the first two years of life are permanent. Is there
anything that can be done?

Yes, but only if we meet their needs on an emotional biological level. Intensive narrative attachment
therapy has had very positive results in creating new neurological connections that override the old
fear-based connections (this is called neuro-plasticity). This therapy involves parents and child, once a
week for two hours, for a total of 10 weeks.

For more information, please call Debra S. Graf, LPC. She has been trained in intensive narrative attachment
therapy and can be reached at 262-334-4340 or